As a photographer I’m often asked, “How do I take better photos?” In the past I’ve sat down with friends to explain the physics of photography. I’ve struggled through the settings on their cameras; written notes; drawn diagrams; and gone over the relationship between ISO200, f5.6, and 1/250 again, and again, and again. Ultimately I don’t think I’ve helped anyone this way, so I’ve decided to try another approach.
This post is not about what ISO/aperture/shutterspeed combination produces the best photographs, or what zoom lens you’ll need, or how much sunlight is too much sunlight. This post is about taking the best photos of your family you can with the equipment you have right now. It won’t make you a professional, but it will help you take photos you’ll be more proud to show off.
Step 1: Simplify.
‘Simple’ is the mantra of this post. Take a look at this photo from Halloween 1999. It’s reasonably exposed and in focus (I think), but the TV, the candle sticks, the fireplace, and everything else around me is visual clutter which distracts from the subject: me in my creepy costume. The fireplace is a nice focal point for a room and I love sitting by it on days like these, but it doesn’t work as a backdrop in this photo.
Declutter your photos. Choose a setting without too many pieces of furniture, fewer architectural details, and a place that is generally more uniform. The fewer elements there are in the area to distract from your focal point the better. This goes for props as well. Your Pinterest might full of them, but in the time it takes you to set up the perfect scene you’ll miss out on the moment you had intended to photograph.
Here is an example of a more simple photo.
My mum grabbed this moment with my brother, dad, and me at the cottage. The cottage wall isn’t distracting. The eye has a more clear focal point. And don’t we look adorable?
Step 2: Say Cheese! Maybe.
A forced smile looks… well, forced, but a bride and groom looking into each other’s eyes is always magical. This is why I ask couples to look at each other rather than at my camera. Not everyone responds to, “Say cheese!” with a Cover Girl smile (myself included). And especially when it comes to children, trying to force a smile can be a nightmare and ultimately ruin a moment.
Your tip is to embrace the moment you are photographing. If your kids are totally engaged in what they’re doing don’t distract them. Don’t spend your time asking them to smile. Candid photos are always the best. If you photograph your kids being kids you’re bound to capture something great. But as soon as you force the whole family and the dog to sit down for a photo, and smile, you lose the natural beauty of the moment.
Take, for example, the photo below.
My mother saw the dog and me snuggling, grabbed the camera, and took a photo. She didn’t call my brother and father to get in the photo, she didn’t take my soother away (because that would have caused a scene), and she didn’t try to wake up the dog and make her look at the camera. I love this photo.
Step 3: Delete.
My parents have an antique desk full of photographs from my childhood. When I say “full” I should clarify that I mean “literally bursting with photographs”. Most of these photos will never see the light of day. They’re just taking up space.
With digital photography there is no need to hold onto photos. The first thing I do when I download a session onto my computer is delete the photos no one will ever want to see again. The photo of the mother of the groom yawning, or the best man looking (but definitely not) drunk. Keep what you love; throw away what you don’t. Unless you intend to embarrass your kids with photos like this (in which case I recommend a huge external hard drive), delete it right away. Otherwise it’s just taking up space you could fill with smiles!
I don’t have examples of photos we’ve thrown away (obviously), but here are a few great moments which follow the tips above.
These tips are meant to help you take better photos of your family in every-day life using only the tools you already have. They are not meant to make you a professional or discount the value of a family portrait session. If you think it’s time for new family portraits contact me. I’d love to meet your family and help you document some of the biggest milestones in your life.